The Election Commission of India is an autonomous constitutional authority responsible for administering election processes in India.
The body administers elections to the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha, state legislatures, and the offices of the President and Vice President in the country.
The Election Commission operates under the authority of Constitution per Article 324, and subsequently enacted Representation of the People Act.
The Election Commission was established on 25th January 1950 with an objective of supervising all elections to the Parliament of India, state legislatures and to the office of the President and the Vice-President of India. In the first few decades of its existence, the commission was led by a Chief Election Commissioner (CEC).
Much later in 1989, two additional commissioners were appointed to the commission for the first time. However, they remained in office for a brief period. With the enactment of The Election Commissioner Amendment Act (1993), the poll commission became a multi-member body. The concept of multi-member Commission became operational once again after two additional Election Commissioners were appointed.
Composition of the Election Commission of India
The Election Commission comprises a Chief Election Commissioner and two Election Commissioners.
According to Article 324 of the Indian Constitution, the President appoints the Chief Election Commissioner and “such other Commissioners” as he may from time to time fix.
The CEC and other Election Commissioners are appointed for a period of six years, or up to the age of 65 years. When an Election Commissioner is appointed, the CEC acts as the Chairman of the Commission.
The Chief Election Commissioner can be removed from his office on the grounds of misconduct or incapacity if the two-third members in both houses of the Parliament give their consent to the decision. The President can remove other Election Commissioners if it is being recommended by the CEC.
Prior to the general elections or state elections, the President may also appoint Regional Commissioners to assist the Election Commission in performing its duties.
The Secretariat, which comprises about 300 officials, helps the Commission perform its executive functions. The secretariat is headed by two deputy election commissioners, who are selected by the Commission from the national civil service.
On a state level, it’s the chief electoral officer (CEO) who supervises the election work. The Commission selects the electoral officer from senior civil servants recommended by the state government.
Under Article 324(1) of the Constitution of India, the Election Commission of India, is vested with the power of superintendence, direction and control of conducting the elections to the offices of the President and Vice-President of India. Detailed provisions are made under the Presidential and Vice Presidential Elections Act, 1952.
The same Article 324 also vests in the Commission the powers of superintendence, direction and control of the elections to both Houses of Parliament.
Article 324 (1) also vests in the Commission the powers of superintendence, direction and control of the elections to both Houses of the State Legislature.
The State Election Commissions are independent of the Election Commission of India.
The Chief Electoral Officer of a State/ Union Territory is authorised to supervise the election work in the State/Union Territory subject to the overall superintendence, direction and control of the Election Commission.
Powers and Functions
The Election Commission takes several measures to hold “free & fair elections” on a periodic basis.
As a constitutional body, it issues a Model Code of Conduct for political parties and candidates to prevent malpractices during elections.
The guidelines for conduct of political parties and their candidates are laid down by the commission. Every new political party has to get itself registered with the commission.
Putting checks and balances in place is what the Election Commission is expected to do. Time and again, it fixes limits on the amount of money a candidate can spend for election campaigns. The observers appointed by the Election Commission keep an eye on the election expenditure. Moreover, the candidates are also required to give details of expenditure at least 30 days prior to the declaration of results. Similarly, the Commission takes details of the candidates’ assets while they submit the nomination paper.
In order to bring down the election expenses, the Commission reduced the campaign period by a week from 21 to 14 days for both Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. Moreover, it is incumbent upon the Commission to prohibit publication and dissemination of results of opinion polls.
All these functions are in addition to the fundamental roles including preparation of electoral rolls and announcement of election dates.